Driving with Selvi: No Rule in India That We Must Keep Suffering

Driving with Selvi: No Rule in India That We Must Keep Suffering

Driving With Selvi follows the true story of a courageous woman who survived gender-based violence, escaped an abusive marriage, and went on to become South India’s first female taxi driver.

Badal ja! recently had a chance to catch up with filmmaker Elisa Paloschi about how the documentary came to be and what’s next for the team as they embark on a journey to spark change through Selvi’s story.

Badal ja!: What first brought you to Mysore? How did you come to know Selvi?

Elisa Paloschi: I met Selvi on my first trip to India in 2004. I hadn’t made a film in 10 years at that point, and certainly hadn’t set out with the intention of making one. As a tourist in Mysore I felt disconnected to the local community so I reached out to the nonprofit Odanadi where I volunteered to help out with an art program during the kids’ school holiday. When the directors Stanly and Parashue heard I had a video background, they found me a camera and asked me to shoot something for organization. They gave me no direction, so I simply set off to spend time and get to know as many of the girls and young women living in the shelter as I could.

Selvi was one of the 30 or so I interviewed. At the time she barely spoke English, and I didn’t speak a word of Kannada. But I felt a strong connection to her very quickly. I knew she had much more to say than I could read in her down turned eyes.

I was fascinated by Selvi and the other two young women she was starting a taxi company with (they had a micro loan through Odanadi). In Mysore in 2004, it was extremely rare to see a woman driver (still is!), and there certainly weren’t any female taxi drivers. Selvi showed a strength of character that impressed me, courage that inspired me, and a sense of humour and a sparkle in her eye rarely seen in someone who’d already suffered so much violence by the age of 18.

4-Selvi in the rearview mirror of her car

The film follows Selvi for 10 years, from her time at the girls’ shelter to when she becomes a driver and endeavors to start her own taxi company. Talk us a bit through these years of filming. What was the trickiest part of this process?

The main challenge I faced was that I had no control over the shoot. Meetings were canceled. Gear I hired didn’t show up. People who agreed to help changed their minds, etc. I’ve always been a very free spirit, but I perfected this while shooting this film. I had to go with the flow, and the film has turned into something that reflects that. It’s very much a film that follows the rhythms of life. It’s a very simple story, about a very complicated situation.

I wanted to show the strength of these girls in the face of adversity, and I thought that a short documentary about the taxi company could do that. So I returned, and I returned again, and I keep on returning. What started as a short, became something much larger than I had imagined. And actually, it’s not about the taxi company at all, which was short lived, but about the strength and hope of a young woman who overcame insurmountable challenges.

The film happened very organically. Each time I returned to India to shoot something specific, nothing turned out as planned. Selvi’s life just kept changing as she continued to heal and grow and realize her dreams. I followed that transformation.

Why is it important to share this story?

Selvi herself feels very strongly that her story will help other girls realize their strength and find their courage. While we were at Good Pitch in Mumbai in February, she said to the audience:

I want every girl in India to see this film because I shouldn’t be the only girl to succeed.

What have you learned about your medium, about documentary filmmaking, through creating and sharing this work?

I made my first documentary more than 20 years ago, about a homeless man. I’m drawn to people and their stories, to people who have a powerful impact on those around them, who have a sparkle in their eye and a sense of hope, when many others would feel hopeless. But in all honesty, I have never set out to make a specific film, rather a story intersects with my life, and suddenly, in this case, 10 years have passed and I have a powerful feature length documentary about the most wonderfully audacious spirited quirky strong willed young woman imaginable.

I couldn’t have planned this. I’ve learnt that unscripted documentary is a true adventure, and not for the weary!

The most important lesson—one that will continue to teach me—is that documentaries can have an enormous impact not only on the people who participate in the film, but in the audience who watches it. So many organizations have shown interest in the film; they want to use it as a tool for change.

2-Selvi driving

What action do you want to inspire the audience to take after viewing the film?

We are developing a very ambitious audience engagement and impact campaign. It will include grassroots screenings with mobile cinemas that we’ll launch with a 10-day bus tour around Karnataka—with Selvi at the wheel. We will invite high-profile female leaders and role models and other survivors of gender violence. We will stage screenings, talks, performances, and workshops in villages along the way. A group of journalists, bloggers, and videographers will be invited to join the tour. We’re also planning to help establish a driving school for women in Mysore as well as a women’s taxi company led by Selvi.

Our ultimate vision is for the film to be used by organizations working in the forefront of women’s rights, to help target a societal shift, erode patriarchy, and promote agency and economic independence for women and girls.

1-Selvi stands against a wall

Your turn

The team behind Driving With Selvi is currently recruiting Ambassadors to contribute to the community engagement efforts. Check out the different roles—including writing, online campaigns, and local organizing—and email the team for more info. You can also support this story by contributing to the team’s crowdfunding efforts on Indigogo by August 28, 2014.